Oh sister, where art thou?

The silence of international feminists in response to the horrific sexual violence against women by Hamas on October 7th is deafening
Graffiti in Tel Aviv. Courtesy of Adele Stowe-Lindner
Graffiti in Tel Aviv. Courtesy of Adele Stowe-Lindner

The International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women is upon us on 25th November, but it feels lonely to be a Jewish feminist.

The Australian Jewish and Israeli Film Festival screened Erica Jong’s documentary this week, in which we see a 1985 interview about pay inequality and sexual freedom. Pay inequality is still a conversation almost 40 years later. And what of sexual freedom?

What should we make of the internationally deafening silence of feminist people in response to the publicly broadcast scenes of horrific sexual violence against women in Israel by Hamas terrorist men on October 7th?

Perhaps the identity of feminism is torn or decayed, falling victim to identity politics of our era. Feminism got distracted. That is a shame because the job is not done yet. Across the globe, women will fall victim to the feminist movement’s willful blindness to the sexual violence perpetrated against Israeli women because the message from the feminist silence is clear: women’s bodies are a legitimate battlefield.

I believe her. That’s what #MeToo left as a legacy. But we cannot hear a feminist peep outside of the global Jewish community and Israel. Is it possible that, despite Hamas terrorists filming their own sexual violence and rape of women who were both alive and murdered, photos of which are readily available across the internet, feminists still do not believe the women?

The feminist world witnessed the psychological terrorism of footage shared by terrorists showing women who had been physically violated being paraded in the street. How can any person who calls themselves a feminist look themselves in the mirror without wondering about the physical welfare of women and girls who have been abducted and held in Gaza?

An enormous number of the over 240 hostages are women and girls. When a feminist person reads that, what does it mean to them? Is there a context in which this, or rape, is an appropriate feminist tool of resistance? If not, where are the feminist people speaking up?

There is no need to choose between mourning the death of innocent Palestinian people or decrying the targeted murder of Israeli people in their homes. Each photo communicates the searing pain of a human losing a loved one. But when a woman uses her feminist identity to make public comments about the death of those in Gaza this month without acknowledging the violent attacks on women and girls in Israel, her hypocrisy undermines her so-called feminism.

The recent “pro Palestinian” school student demonstrations in Australia were of particular note because school students were interviewed, and they explained at length that they know exactly what’s going on in Gaza so claim to have made an informed choice to be demonstrating.

They did not mention what they know of what happened in Israel on October 7th, much less the nature of the sexual violence, kidnapping and torture of women. This may be partly because mainstream media issue trigger warnings and explain that they cannot describe the details of the sexual violence in words as it is too disturbing and deemed inappropriate. While this may be partly true, it has led to school children accessing half-pieces of information, insisting that they know all of the information, protected by parents and adults who do not want to traumatize them. Yet we all know that such children have access to media far beyond the mainstream, unless of course their algorithms or adult manipulators direct them elsewhere.

Where are the school children marching against the filmed sexual violence against women in Israel?

Grassroots movements, such as the Israeli organization, Women Wage Peace, bring women together across cultures — Israelis and Palestinians — using feminism and sisterhood to share pain and build one another up rather than try to deplete their neighbors. It is powerful to say: I hear you, I see you. Feminists in other democracies could learn from that.

Jewish feminists including Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Phyllis Chesler, Judy Chicago, Robin Morgan, Shulamith Firestone, questioned sexual politics, pay inequity and systematic inequality for decades, enabling all of us, women and men, to benefit today.  All of us benefit, including those who close their eyes to the frightening sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th.

Rape is not resistance.

Sisters, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we have let them down.

About the Author
Adele Stowe-Lindner sits on the boards of the Zionist Federation of Australia and Maccabi Tennis Club Victoria, Australia. She has a Masters in Leadership, and has worked in the community sector, managing change, for over 20 years.
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